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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Digital farmer’s market

Update : 07 Feb 2014, 08:46 PM

Fishermen all the way in Mongla are selling their catch thousands of miles away in Dhaka.

Farmers from around the country are supplying directly to city markets.

Women in villages are earning a stable income selling home-grown vegetables and handmade nakshi kathas across the country and abroad.

And all this has been made possible by Amar Desh Amar Gram (ADAG), a project that has revolutionised the rural market system in Bangladesh.

The concept, uniquely Bangladeshi, directly connects rural producers with the consumers around the world – unlike popular e-commerce sites Amazon and eBay, which act as warehouses.

Breaking the technological divide

Today with their website amardesheshop.com, more than 5,500 rural producers are earning a higher income through the virtual marketplace than they did through more traditional value chains, thus facilitating better economic opportunities for rural Bangladesh – which makes up 80% of Bangladesh’s population – by cutting out the middle man.

The project makes computers and the internet accessible to the lowest income groups in rural areas in the farthest corners of the country, creating opportunities previously not available to them.

Izlal Moin Husain, one of the directors at ADAG, describes the function of the e-centres as being more than online marketplaces.

“Primarily, each centre offers the same services to the rural community – specifically the rural youth.

“The role of each centre is to provide basic computer training and form a community, along with familiarising people outside the ‘privileged’ periphery with the concept of e-commerce and the role technology can play in empowering citizens in the areas of trade, culture, health, information, education and news.”

In short, they are acclimatising Bangladesh to the concept of a Digital Bangladesh.

The project is dedicated to minimising the digital gap between rural and city life by creating this online market place, providing practical and demand-based technical education to the rural youth, and creating a number of income opportunities.  

The rural farmers and producers use amardesheshop.com through e-centres set up by ADAG. Nine such centres have been set up since the pilot project in Mithekhali, Mongla was implemented in 2010, but ADAG’s aim is to operate 64 e-centres – one for each district, and eventually 480 centres covering 480 upazillas.

Employment, empowerment, ecommerce

The project, however, is much more ambitious than that. It seeks to empower, and create a new generation of entrepreneurs from the rural youth who will endeavour towards self-employment. It also seeks to reduce the rate of rural-urban migration by creating self-sustainability for the rural communities.

Users of the e-centres, particularly rural women who face additional roadblocks, are using them for trading and the ability to work from home and generate income through direct sales empowerment.

Izlal explains: “The rural entrepreneurs, after a week of training, take matter into their own hands and run the show from each centre. Our role is to provide a platform and inspire the people into self-empowerment. How they use the technology for their own well-being is solely dependent on them.

“This is the only way we found for a project of such magnitude to be sustainable in the long run. Power to the people – that is our sole responsibility.”

A holistic system

The lack of proper communication and proper distribution, due to a system with entrenched problems such as corruption, exclusion of women, lack of market information and infrastructure, the poor law and order situation, collection of illegal tolls among other factors, causes huge losses for the rural community. For instance, 40% of the vegetables grown in Bangladesh every year rot, and are thrown out. ADAG’s system hopes to comb through some of these knots.

Izlal describes ADAG’s network: “One of the main problems with not only the agriculture industry but even the handicrafts industry is that of syndication. The producers are cheated with very low pay, while the middleman hikes up the price leaving the consumers to burden the cost. Our system links the producers straight to the consumers and vice versa. Hence both parties are satisfied.”

Every e-centre employee goes through a rigorous training process. They are trained only once they believe in the motivation and vision of ADAG.

Izlal adds: “One noteworthy thing to mention here is that we have a preconceived notion that rural people will not be privy to ICT based innovation. This can be regarded as a completely a parochial view. Bangladesh has been blessed with intelligent people who can pick up things with stupendous prowess in a very short amount of time.”

Recognition

In 2012, ADAG was the merit winner of the WITSA Global ICT Awards, the same award was won in 2010 by the Obama administration for their Open Government Initiative.

This, Izlal says, is just the tip of the iceberg for ADAG. The torchbearers are gearing up to solve bigger social challenges through this project: gender discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and to create direct access to the market for rural economies for fair trading.

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